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Both the New York Times and the Texas Tribune ran a story this weekend written by Tribune reporter Reeve Hamilton titled “Makeover for Technical Colleges, Based on Graduates’ Earnings.” My honorable mention aside, it largely provides the Texas State Technical College West Texas’s and the System’s explanation for the huge drop in enrollment from an annual unduplicated student headcount of over 10,000 to just over 1,500. Here’s what I see as the most critical excerpt from the story:

According to the T.S.T.C., most of the decline can be attributed to the shedding programs designed to drive up enrollment — particularly an online continuing education program for probationers.

Though that decision was made in 2008, Mr. Reeser said it was in preparation for an eventual conversion to a system in which high enrollment numbers were not as important as the potential earnings of students.

The thrust of that excerpt is that TSTC is just trimming away the fat. Unfortunately, they’ve lost some of the lean–heck, some of the bone–out there. Please take a look at the screen shot below taken from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s “Higher Education Accountability’ website. Click on the image to enlarge it.

TSTC West Texas First-Time, Full-Time Students Fall 2000 to Fall 2012

TSTC West Texas First-Time, Full-Time Students Fall 2000 to Fall 2012

As opposed to annual numbers, much of the data tracked by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board centers on fall semesters. During the fall 2004 registration period, the TSTC West Texas high water mark for this critical category of the student population, the college enrolled 472 first-time, full-time students for its fall semester as the image above reveals. Those students weren’t part-timers, or probationers taking continuing education classes or some other category that could be looked upon as fat that needed trimming away for any new funding model coming down the line. These were students dedicated enough to commit to a full-time, technical education the first time they stepped onto a higher education campus. Now take a look at the last two years in the image above. By fall 2011, TSTC West Texas managed to enroll a mere 26 of them. The good news is that the college managed to nearly triple that number to 76 in the fall of 2012, but it’s still a fraction of what it was doing back in 2004. While administrators point publicly to continuing education to allay fears about dropping enrollment, I sure hope somebody is working behind the scenes to fix this critical category.

As the e-mails in a previous post reveal, the numbers are sinking to a critical level at TSTC West Texas. When administrators started making these changes, their expectations were way off the mark. For the college’s and region’s sake, I hope they’ve learned something and stop the drop this fall.